Pride needs to return to its rainbow roots
The fight is not over, and don't forget it.
At its core, Pride is a celebration, a nostalgic appreciation of how far we have come since the liberation movement that began in the late '60s. But in recent years, thanks to the capitalist world we live in, Pride has become yet another event on which to slap a logo.
But first, a little history lesson. In 1969 at the Stonewall Inn in New York City, a series of riots that followed a police raid gave birth to the gay rights movement. Though white muscular men are undoubtedly the face of gayness today, it was actually Trans women of colour who initiated the movement 60 years ago. In London the following year, the first public demonstration for LGBTQ+ rights was held, with only 150 men in attendance. And in 1972, the first official London Pride march followed with approximately 2,000 participants.
Activist icons, like Marsha P Johnson and Sylvia Rivera, spearheaded the gay liberation movement and the community would not have the freedoms it has today if it were not for their actions.
sylvia rivera back in 2001 “this movement has become so capitalist... this is no longer my pride, i gave them their pride but they have not given me mine” pic.twitter.com/E1LT3NnoAB
— teya #SulongVAKLASH #AchibDisBill (@TeyaLogos) June 4, 2021
Pride has since become a worldwide event, with June dedicated to the cause and to the people in the community. For years it was a cause rooted in activism, to being present and unwavering. Though allegations that it is a glorified party surface each year, the true issue does not lie within how Pride is conducted. The way we celebrate has changed for sure, but the reasons are still very much there.
As young gays emerging from the closet, Pride was aspirational for my generation to look at. We saw people unapologetically queer and empowered by one another. However, with age comes the realisation that during June, we still have to explain and debate about our right to take up space.
I was naive to think it was the one month where we could be unapologetically queer, that perhaps I wouldn't get looks in the street or comments shouted at me from across rooms. Sure, I feel pride for my community and how far we have come, but we often overlook how far we still have to go - see the list below.
June should be the month where the battle is over, where we can reminisce on the victories and plan future battles. Instead, June becomes a constant explanation of why we get an entire month. It's exhausting to explain the argument over and over, engaging with individuals so stuck in their train of thought.
What's so hard to understand about a month where queer people can celebrate being gay as hell? It isn't for straight people, nor are you forced to partake. Why care so much about something that doesn't directly affect you? If we gained some enormous upper hand it would be understandable, but it's not like gays gain superpowers during Pride - well not all of us anyway.
So let's break it down nice and simple for those struggling to follow:
- In 2020, 350 transgender people were killed worldwide.
- Being gay is illegal in 71 countries.
- In 11 countries, you can be punished by death.
- 52 per cent of the LGBTQ+ community in England, Scotland and Wales say they experienced depression in the last year, according to a Stonewall/YouGov report.
- In the same study, 72 per cent of Bi women said they had experienced anxiety in the last year.
- And one in five LGBTQ+ people had experienced homelessness.
The list could go on.
But among the debate lies a more concerning issue, fuelled not by ignorance or disagreement, but money.
Every June, along with the criticism, comes a flurry of Rainbow iconography across almost every aspect of our lives. As queer people, our culture is created not only for a sense of community but a method of survival. Our aesthetic, symbols, and memes, even our language, are a way of evoking a part of us that spent years tucked away.
But this narrative is cheapened when brands slap a rainbow logo on a product they have always sold, despite - in some cases - doing little to support positive representation the rest of the year. This disingenuous symbolism only adds to the idea that queer people are shoving it in peoples' faces.
Besides the cheap tokens of a brand's 'support,' merchandise is often expensive and caters to a predominantly white, middle class demographic. For many of the queer people living in poverty, the idea of spending money on expensive Pride fashion items would be obscene.
Student, Reece Attwood, having recently joined the Alphabet Mafia, has a relatively fresh outlook on the situation. For those of you not up to date on your queer slang, Alphabet Mafia is a term adopted by the community to describe its entirety. It plays on the criticism that half of the alphabet is included in the LGBTQ+ acronym. Reece was kind enough to chat to JOE about his views on the current state of Pride.
"I think the rainbow flag is just a way of saying you’re an ally without actually doing anything for the community, passive activism," he says. "It’s a way for brands to avoid getting cancelled for not supporting LGBTQ+ rights while not actually doing anything and it caters to a straight majority, realistically."
"Because as gay people we can’t then say you’re not doing anything because there's a rainbow flag there which must mean they support the gays. It’s almost equivalent to putting BLM in your bio and then not protesting or educating yourself."
It's essential to mention that not all companies are guilty of rainbow-washing their merchandise. For instance, Fossil is selling a special edition Pride watch, for which the entirety of the proceeds will be donated to The Trevor Project. Converse is also collaborating with LGBTQ+ artists for their Pride collection.
Karen Tongson, a professor of gender and equality studies, spoke to USA today about rainbow capitalism.
"It just falls short in every possible way, in terms of actually providing systemic or structural change or justice for the community that it purports to represent," she says.
"Sure, it helps to see somebody who quote-unquote looks like you ... (but) if that's not backed up with something substantive, like a real commitment to hiring LGBTQ+ people or making sure that there are no discriminatory laws ... it's not going to make any difference because people are still going to suffer the same injustices. They'll just be able to drape themselves in rainbow gear while doing so."
Rainbow capitalism walks a fragile line between support and exploitation. People often argue that it is a show of support, and for that, I would agree. However, the issue comes when little is done besides some hastily designed merch for June.
Instead of forcing acceptance and approval into one month, brands and governments should be uplifting and promoting queer voices throughout the entire year. If allyship is truly the aim, then choose to be vocal on issues that threaten the community, and help your company make changes that directly improve the lives of queer people.
I like a rainbow bottle as much as the next queer, and the merchandise is not actually the issue. Queer people do not call for an end to merchandise unless it's ugly - then burn it with fire - but a show of support that is not motivated by money.
— Ella Hunt (@EllaHunt) June 10, 2021
Sylvia Rivera famously said: "I was a radical, a revolutionist. I am still a revolutionist…I am glad I was in the Stonewall riot. I remember when someone threw a Molotov cocktail, I thought, “My god, the revolution is here. The revolution is finally here!"
I am not suggesting we throw firebombs during Pride, but perhaps it should be more radical and less about assimilation. Remember that as we live somewhat free, there are countries where people can still be killed by those who govern them. The fight is not over, and don't forget it.
Happy Pride. Stay unapologetically queer.